This week Democratic presidential hopeful Beto O’Rourke spoke with community leaders in Oakland, California, addressing the disparities in legal marijuana industry.
According to the Huffington Post, Thursday, just hours after he unveiled a sweeping plan to legalize marijuana while also repairing the glaring racial injustices spawned by the war on drugs, O’Rourke met with marijuana industry leaders to discuss both the merits and limits of his game plan.
The dozen or so participants assembled and hosted by the former Texas congressman at the roundtable gathering were predominently people of color and included local officials, community organizers and business owners.
The rigorous discussion touched on how tricky it has been to create a legalized marijuana industry nationwide while also grappling with America’s ongoing track record of disproportionately targeting Black and Brown communities when prosecuting non violent drug related crimes.
“When [weed is legal] at the federal level, and the tobacco and pharmaceutical industries come in, where is the protection for the small businesses and the people of color?” asked Phae Moore, co-founder of Blunts and Moore, the Oakland dispensary where the meeting was held.
Blunts and Moore has already made local history as the very first “social equity” dispensary to open as part of a city program that grants permits to people with prior marijuana-related convictions or from neighborhoods with disproportionate arrests.
Moore also shared common concerns about the federal taxes O’Rourke’s plan would be imposing on the industry, which she pushes back is already being very heavily taxed. As a result many businesses like hers have had to pass those costs on to their customers, putting them at risk of not staying competitive in an incredibly saturated market.
“You’re overtaxing and (customers) can get it at a better rate on the street,” she said, pointing out the pink elephant in the room.
A 2013 study by the American Civil Liberties Union reports that Black people across the nation were nearly four times more likely than whites to be arrested for marijuana possession in 2010, even though both groups use the drug at about the same rate.
“As a white guy it was never really a fear of mine that I’d be stopped or arrested for marijuana,” O’Rourke conceded. “How do we ensure those that are the most harmed by the war on drugs have the greatest chance to succeed moving forward? And I want your guidance and help doing that.”